One of Charles Dickens’ famous books is A Tale of Two Cities. It is set before and during the French Revolution and, towards the end of the book, Charles Darnay, an escaped French aristocrat finds himself in the Bastille prison, condemned to the guillotine. Darnay left France because he could not tolerate his father’s behaviour towards the peasants, and wanted nothing to do with it. He only returned to help an old friend. In England he has married and has a child, and his family and friends are distraught.
During the book we have met Sydney Carton, a barrister who bears an uncanny resemblance to the condemned man. Their looks are the only similarity between them, for Carton wastes his life and never puts himself out for anyone. Carton was once in love with Darnay’s wife Lucie, and pledged to sacrifice anything for her, even though she married his rival.
He overhears a plan to denounce her and her child too. Carton realises that his life is worthless, especially when compared to Darnay’s and Lucie’s, and he resolves to change places with him. He visits Darnay in the Bastille, drugs him and exchanges clothes with him. An accomplice takes Darnay out of the prison and he and his family escape to England.
On the way to the guillotine Carton comforts a young seamstress with a vision of the future and ends with this now-famous quote:
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
No matter what sort of a life someone has lived, to sacrifice their life to save another is looked on as an amazingly noble act.
Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Paul said, Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. (Romans 5:7)
Sidney Carton thought that it made sense to sacrifice a worthless life for a worthy one. Those affected were deeply moved by what he did.
Jesus gave up his life for us, but the sacrifice was the other way around. He gave up his supremely worthy life to save our worthless ones.
Paul said, At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6,8) Not only were we powerless, ungodly, and sinners. He goes on to say that we were actually God’s enemies! (Romans 5:10)
Two sacrifices, two very different situations. One is a story, one is true. Your life will not be changed if you don’t read A Tale of Two Cities. But the other sacrifice affects you personally. What will you do about it?